Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Alter Trade Mascobado: Real Power with Real Food

I walked softly and I carried a long stick.  If I had not treaded carefully, I could have slipped down the rocky, flooded, and narrow road to Sitio Baliguan in Patag, Silay City.  If I had not carried a long, walking stick, I could have grown weary from climbing up to get to the farm of Rene Boy Sombria.  The less-than-two-kilometer trek may be daunting for me but for Rene Boy, it’s just another day at work.

The 3.47-hectare farm Rene Boy cultivates has loamy and sandy loam soil quite suitable to the crops that give him his daily bread.  Crops such as the fleshy Red Lady papaya, avocados, four kinds of bananas, and passion fruit are the source of his contentment and livelihood.  The papaya  trees yield from 18 to 35 kilograms of fruits every week while about 600 banana plants of the balangon variety supply an established Japanese market.  Often, one sees cacao and coffee trees intercropped with other trees and I can imagine our farmer grinning from ear to ear a few years from now as he fills the need of the growing market for chocolate and coffee.

Rene Boy is just one of about two hundred farmers who benefit from the “complete development loop” of Alter Trade Corporation’s Sustainable Agriculture-Organic Farming (SA-OF) and Fair Trade (FT).  The SA-OF “sustains and protects both farmers and the environment and provides consumers with safe and healthy food.”  The farm visit was made not only by Alter Trade Corporation’s key personnel but by some consumers who were given this exciting opportunity to see for themselves where, how, and by whom their food was grown.  ATC’s thrust of ensuring the integrity of their products is taken very, very seriously by the players of this enterprise.  On July 7, 2013, the company launched TheBOX (The Bio-Organic Exchange) which is a “real food” distribution system that is meant to link up the consumers to healthy, naturally-grown food, and to assure smallholder producers of a profitable and steady consumer base.  To balance the program, SAVe (Sustainable Agro-ecological VillagEs) was launched as the food production counterpart to perpetuate TheBOX.  SAVe includes balangonand sugarcane production, vegetables, root crops and livestock production, animal health management, organic fertilizer generation, pest and disease management, and integration of appropriate renewable technologies.

Originally established in 1988 as a company that hoped to positively impact the then suffering sugar industry, Alter Trade Corporation’s sole produce that time, the muscovado sugar, has since been joined by a gamut of agricultural products meant to anchor the province’s reputation as an organic food source in the country.  Except for the balangon bananas that exclusively head off to Japan, organic farm produce have a substantial niche in a health-conscious domestic market.  What fueled Alter Trade’s passion for encouraging the switch to organic farming among its producers are the cost considerations of conventional farming as follows:

1) Human cost: labor exploitation, exposure to hazardous petro-chemicals, slow disintegration of rural centers, increasing food insecurity, and disenfranchisement of farmers from their land as big agribusinesses take over;

2)  Nutritional and health cost:  rise of lifestyle diseases, and chemically-contaminated food that are supposedly safe by government standards;

3)  Environmental cost:  poisoning of soil due to increasing amount of petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides, loss of soil through erosion and depletion, decreased nutritional quality of intensively-produced food;

4)  Energy cost: high use of fossil fuel to keep the current food industry running;

5)  Genetic cost:  only a handful of varieties of each crop due to commoditization of seeds and crops, polluting the genetic pool due to GMO.

Alter Trade Corporation handles 13 farmer associations in Negros Occidental that are provided guidance from farm production and production support services to product processing, packaging, distribution and marketing.  Some of these farmers are even awardees for their agricultural practices which speak a lot about the quality of the program afforded them by TheBOX and SAVe.

The quality of life of our local farmers may have improved tremendously, the arduous trip to Rene Boy’s farm gave me a first-hand insight of the hardships of our organic food providers.  With no other route to and from the farm but that stony, steep and narrow path, the hauling of produce to the consolidation center where farms unload their products had made me more appreciative of the farmers’ irreplaceable role in our society.  Long live our farmers, that we may live long, healthy lives, too.  Real food empowers!


31st Negros Trade Fair "One Sweet Spot"
September 14-16, 2016, 
Glorietta Mall, Makati

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Author & Editor

The Negros Trade Fair is the longest running provincial trade fair in the Philippines held annually in Metro Manila since 1985.

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